The Myth Behind The Policy That Never Dies

The Myth Behind The Policy That Never Dies

{Photo credit: Warren Zelman.}Photo credit: Warren Zelman.

Family planning is not abortion.

If this were understood, we could stop the discussion here. Decades of debate and wrangling over women’s access to contraceptives could end. But the myth that family planning equals abortion fuels policies and practices that block women’s access to health services.

One such policy is The Global Gag Rule (or Mexico City Policy). Coined by Population Action International as "The Policy That Never Dies", The Global Gag Rule bans organizations that receive US public or government funding from using non-US funds to provide (or even refer to) abortion services—even if those services are legal in those countries. When the Global Gag Rule was enforced, some of our partners struggled to provide life-saving services to women in need. These organizations could no longer receive US funding for providing any health services, because they were also providing abortion services that were legal in the country. 

In reality, family planning helps reduce abortion. And many women won't need to abort, if they have the family planning information and services they need.

As part of the community of public health, Management Sciences for Health (MSH) advocates for a reduction of abortion and unsafe abortion and supports access to safe and legal abortion. There are thousands of women dying from unsafe abortion—and there is no need. Research shows that when abortion is legal, fewer women die. Period.

Access to safe and legal abortion is a matter of public health.

We know the policy pendulum swings. Although dormant since 2009, the Global Gag Rule is still on the books, and could be reinstated. We will continue to support partners helping women and couples access their right to services that can avoid unnecessary deaths—even if the Global Gag rule is reinstated by a more conservative US government.

We know from our more than 40 years of working in family planning and reproductive health, that access to a wide range of family planning commodities and services saves lives, and reduces the need for abortion. Family planning does not equal abortion. And access to safe and legal abortion saves lives. That’s why we support our partners advocating now for an end to The Policy That Never Dies.

Fabio Castaño, MD, MPH is the global technical lead for family planning and reproductive health at Management Sciences for Health (MSH). Rachel Hassinger, online communications specialist, is editor of MSH's Global Health Impact newsletter and blog.